Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On Denmark

I'm prone to speak of one of Norway's neighbours - Sweden. If you have been following this blog for a while, you know all about my love-hate relationship with Norway's "older brother". Or rather, how I pretend to hate Sweden, while in reality I love it (except when it comes to sports. That's the only arena where my Swedenmosity is genuine...).

Our other close "relative", however - Denmark - I haven't spoken much about. Denmark is a little further away. You actually have to cross an ocean (albeit a narrow one). Also, Norway and Norwegians are strangely concerned about Sweden, while Denmark occasionally falls out of our conscience.

Even if we write Danish.

Even if our flag is the Danish flag with a blue cross in it.

Even if we imported our royal family from Denmark.

Even if practically every flight anywhere in the world to/from Norway goes via Denmark.

Even if they ruled us for 400 hundred years.

We forgave that...

I know I've previously mentioned how strange it is that while our union with Denmark was four centuries of absolutist rule, Norwegians are only bitter about the less than a century with Sweden in a much looser constellation where we had our own constitution, Parliament and flag. We like to think of Denmark as our protector, somehow. Perhaps not a brother or sister - more like an uncle, perhaps? The uncle that always is a little tipsy and brings you presents from abroad. That's Denmark to Norway. Slightly less close than Sweden, but infinitely more appreciated. Poor Sweden.

I've grown to appreciate Denmark more recently, though. First of all, some of the very excellent people I met in Tokyo were Danish. I've had Danish friends before - the first one was on a vacation when I was five, and I didn't understand a word she said. Language is a problem with Danes, you see. Despite the fact that our written language (or one of them - yes, we have two. No, they are not all that different. No, don't tell my Neo-Norwegian patriot friends I said that...) basically is a Norwegianified Danish, oral Danish is quite difficult to understand. Norwegians commonly think Danish people sound like they speak with a potato in their throats. Some of my Danish friends agree... With some practice, though, I can usually understand Danish if. They. Speak. Slowly. Slooowly. It cuts through the potato, then.

Written Danish, on the other hand, is not problematic for a Norwegian to read. Thus, it poses no particular challenge when I in my current job have to read a lot of Danish newspapers. In fact, by now I think I prefer reading Danish - it sounds much more poetic and elegant than Norwegian does! Also, the Danish debate I am reading up on is much more "spicy" than anything you'll find in Norway. While we consider the Danes to be mellow people, they certainly have much more zing to their public commentary than what we have. It makes for more interesting reading material, for sure.

They may be bold in their debates, but the Danes are also surprisingly polite. For instance, I was surprised to find myself addressed with "De" and "Dem" in an email in reply to some inquiries I had. We have this polite version in Norwegian too - it compares to the German "Sie" or the French "Vous" - but we never, ever use it anymore (I don't anyone has since the 1960s). I commented on this to my Danish friend, and he replied that it is not very common in Denmark anymore either, but that is is used for "customers, elderly people and Norwegians". Obviously, the latter was a joke, but it says something about the relationship between our two countries. In many ways I think Danes think of Norway as the prodigal son - they fondly awaits that we will come back under their influence once we've tried all this "independence" nonsense... (I might also add that another Danish friend commented that had I been Swedish, I probably wouldn't have gotten a reply at all... That says something about the relationship between those two countries, I suppose...)

Oh, it's all fun and games, of course. Norway, Denmark and Sweden - Scandinavia (and if we include Iceland and Finland we've got the whole Nordic family) - we're good friends. We begrudgingly vote for each other in the Eurovision Song Contest. We occasionally cheer for each others' teams in sports competitions (perhaps that is why we like Denmark better, by the way? We generally don't do the same sports...). We cooperate in politics and economy, we read each others' literature and watch each others' movies. We have similar values and ideas and systems. We get along pretty well, despite our historical differences. And we looooove to make fun of each other. As evidenced below.


mshatch said...

that was hilarious.

Jenny said...

LOL! Fantastic! That's how I feel about people above the Mason-Dixon line... ;)

sue said...

And they have an Australian princess! It's funny meeting Danes - there tends to be a slightly awkward moment and then someone comments: "We're practically related".

Pat Tillett said...

VERY interesting! When it comes to sports, all friendships and treaties are put on hold!
"Norwegians commonly think Danish people sound like they speak with a potato in their throats." That is a classic!
Hope you are doing well...

Kelley said...

This is so interesting!! I live in the United States (Texas) and had no idea about the relationship between the 3 countries. I mean, honestly, I've always been puzzled and a bit confused by Scandinavia- what it is composed of, which one is Danish, etc. I know, I know! That is pathetic. Anyway, this was very enjoyable. I learned a lot!

Kelly said...

I knew very little about Scandanavia until I started blogging and I've learned so much since then! I follow a Danish book blogger and she has opened my eyes to much of the beauty in her country.

Being from Arkansas, I've had more than my share of ribbing about the way I talk. Oh well.

Anonymous said...


Thanks Kelly for sending me this link.

Yes, Kelly, every word is TRUE - except that spoken Danish is difficult. Not at all!

Cruella: I just had the first laugh of the day - thank you!

Dorte H - Denmark.

Melody said...

Thanks so much for posting this! :) No, seriously. I'm American. I've never been across the Atlantic, and, to be honest, all the countries there blend into one thing called Europe. I love hearing about the difference, about *life* there. You make it real, and that's good, so good, for me, for everybody. :)

It's funny. I've always loved Scandinavia. First it was Sweden, because Kirsten, the American Girl doll/books, is Swedish. Then it was Denmark, because of some books I read about their bravery during WW2. Now it's Norway - because of you. Seriously. :)

Cold As Heaven said...

I heard in the radio some time ago that the joke about Danish in the video is actually true. Danish children are slower that other nordic children to learn their language, probably due to all the diffuse consonants that slide over to half-vowels >:)

Cold As Heaven

Jenny said...

What Melody said!

Hart Johnson said...

*giggles* Oh those silly Danes... I find it fascinating, really, that there isn't even a little Danish animosity. i get the Sweden thing, totally and completely... maybe it is a little like all the Anglophiles in the US (of which I count myself one).

Glad those spicy Danes are keeping you entertained at work.

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